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Council delays decision on Nanaimo Centre Stage options

A decision was deferred Monday because two councillors were absent, but city council will have to decide soon what to do with Nanaimo Centre Stage, a community theatre venue that is falling apart like a bad plot.

The city purchased the aging building at 25 Victoria Cres. in 2008 for $460,000 to provide an emerging artist theatre in a burgeoning arts district. Recently, estimates suggest that $800,000 will be required to renovate the exterior of the theatre, which poses a danger to theatre users and passersby due to the potential of falling bricks and stucco cladding.

While council wrestles with the decision to commit to rehabilitating the building long-term, it also needs to consider a short-term fix to reduce liability.

Options before council include:

• do nothing, even though stucco clad areas are showing deterioration and could fall to the ground if not repaired

• Install walk-through scaffolding on the Nicol Street sidewalk to protect pedestrians at a cost of about $20,000

• Replace the stucco and brick veneer along the Nicol Street side of the building at a cost of $160,000.

The third option is considered the first step of a complete renovation – about $160,000 a year for the next five years – which could allow for future work to be delayed, but city staff warns if that money is invested and other necessary fixes are put off in the future, the price tag could go up over time.

Barbara French, artistic director of In Other Words Theatre, which rents space at Nanaimo Centre Stage, said it takes a lot for a building to be adequate for a theatre venue, and Nanaimo Centre Stage meets the criteria.

"When it comes to a theatre not just any building will do, there are a lot of ways to refit a building to make it a theatre and a lot of those ways don't work. You can throw money at it until the cows come home and they'll still never be theatres," she said.

French said theatre spaces need ceiling high enough for proper lighting, the right floor that won't injure actors or dancers, the right amount of seating, rehearsal and ticketing space, and bathrooms that adhere to equity rules among other things.

"All of those boxes I just ticked off are there at Nanaimo Centre Stage. You've got a winner there in what that space provides," said French.

Council deferred the vote on which option to take Monday because Coun. Diana Johnstone, who is also chairwoman of the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission was absent, as was Coun. Diane Brennan, who introduced the original motion.

Earlier discussions by council has suggested a hesitancy to commit to spending that much money, and the option of adding scaffolding doesn't seem appealing either.

"Just putting up scaffolding is probably not the thing to do," said Coun. Fred Pattje. "The problem I have with the $160,000 at this point is I almost feel obliged to then do the rest and I haven't made up my mind about that yet."

Council also expressed hesitancy at beginning repairs only to find there is more work that needs to be done.

"That's the nature of renovations," said Al Kenning, city manager. "Once you get in there you don't know what you're dealing with. Sometimes it's less, sometimes it's more."

The consideration comes at a time when the Port Theatre Society is proposing a $10- million addition that would also provide community performance and rehearsal stages just a few blocks away.

Council is scheduled to vote on Nanaimo Centre Stage's interim remediation options on March 11.

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